Competition | January 2015 | By Tamara Omazic

International Invasion

Adventurous menus, operational know-how, and cultured brand positioning have these 10 international brands poised for success in the U.S. market.

When it comes to global expansion, international operators are quick to point to the U.S. as the gateway to success. Foodservice here is booming, with expected restaurant industry sales in 2014 surpassing $680 billion, according to the National Restaurant Association—and the limited-service sector accounts for about $230 billion of it.

The rise of Millennials as tastemakers and an increasingly diverse population has led to global and ethnic flavors becoming more in demand than ever before, opening the door for international brands to grow explosively across the states. These 10 brands are likely to lead the charge.

Pret A Manger


The team behind this London-based eatery hopped across the pond in 2000, landing in Manhattan to open their first U.S. unit just down the street from the iconic New York Stock Exchange. Described on its website as a cross between a good restaurant, an Italian coffee bar, and a bullet train, the limited-service concept focuses on fresh, pre-packaged fare to draw in on-the-go consumers. Hot and cold sandwiches, salads, soups, and pastries are made throughout the day, and unsold items are donated to local food pantries, says Joseph Iazzetta, vice president of store development at Pret. “We carry our culture of doing good all the way through our shop in terms of how we design it, how we operate it, how we believe in sourcing food, and our charity work.”

Entering the U.S. market was a litmus test for success and the permission it needed to go global, Iazzetta says. But the move was not without the expected challenges. The brand had to make some adjustments to appeal more to the American consumer, the most notable being the shift to self-serve, drip-brew coffee. The change, along with a menu that borrows flavor profiles from various cultures, has resonated well with Pret’s target urban-consumer base.

“They do really well with the urban lunch crowd because everything is prepackaged,” says Lauren Hallow, associate editor of news and concept analysis for research firm Technomic. “But they really let people know they use natural, preservative-free ingredients, so the fresh factor is still there. They do have a higher price point, and I think that’s why they’re sticking to these urban areas with affluent consumers.”

Iazzetta echoes that sentiment, adding that for Pret to thrive in a market, there must be heavy pedestrian traffic. In the coming years, the eatery will focus on growing in its current markets of New York, Boston, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., before expanding across the country, Iazzetta says. “We’re in the process of developing a deep national marketing planning strategy to provide us with a road map.”


South Korea

As the largest coffee-shop brand in South Korea, Caffebene looked to the U.S. first when beginning its international expansion.

“The U.S. is the world’s biggest market, which is why we first wanted to enter the U.S. when we wanted to go global,” says Amy Inhee Park, marketing associate for the brand. “We lacked familiarity, but that was also a good thing for us because we had a blank slate.”

That blank slate allowed the U.S. team to develop a robust food offering that would differentiate the coffee chain from U.S. competitors. The menu includes lunch items like a Ham and Egg Sandwich and a Teriyaki Chicken Sandwich, as well as Belgian waffles with various toppings and Italian gelato.

“We knew pastries and bread items were everyday go-to items for American consumers, so we added more types of pastries so we could offer a wider variety of choices,” Inhee Park says.

Its South Korean roots can be seen in items like the Red Bean Bingsu, a type of Korean shaved ice, and the Misuguru latte, made with a traditional Korean grain powder called misugaru. “A lot of cafés in New York are more for the to-go guests, but for our locations, we want the customers to stay,” Inhee Park says of a key point of differentiation for Caffebene. The bulk of the coffee chain’s growth will occur in the Big Apple, with more than 40 openings planned across the city.

Brioche Dorée


Though its roots may be French, Brioche Dorée’s menu draws from many European food cultures, including Italian, Persian, and Greek. Since opening in the U.S. five years ago, the gourmet café brand has focused greatly on nontraditional venues like airports, travel plazas, and even universities, thanks in part to a partnership with HMSHost. Of its 38 units in North America, 27 are nontraditional locations, says Jeff Drake, president of Brioche Dorée North America, in an email.

“We are looking to grow our nontraditional presence by 20 percent, and also to add four to six corporate storefront locations annually, and then [grow] by 10–15 percent,” he says. Drake adds that corporate in-line restaurants will open in cities like Dallas, Washington, D.C., and Chicago.

“I think they could do well if they moved to an in-line or standalone location,” Hallow says, adding that the brand’s gourmet salads, which extend beyond traditional tossed salads, and French-inspired crepes would resonate well with the American fast-casual consumer.

“The brand was founded in France nearly 40 years ago, [and] in that time, we’ve leveraged the history of who we are as a French concept. We’ve set it up as an urban bakery café—it appeals to people who live and work in the city,” Drake says. A global brand, Brioche Dorée operates more than 500 restaurants in total across Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and South America.


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